Lean Horse came the weekend following Leadville. Liz and I were in the RV and drove to Hot Springs SD from Leadville leaving on Tuesday, stopping at the Boulder Running Company en route to look at some Hoka One One shoes. Liz and I both owned a pair of Hokas and had done some running in them but they had both been bought online at big discounts and were too small. One of the biggest physical ailments that both of us have been suffering from is tenderness in the bottoms of our feet. Doing so many races and doing some rocky races in road shoes earlier in the year (Zion and OD in particular) had left the bottoms of our feet really sore both during runs as well as in between runs.
BRC had the full line of shoes in multiple sizes and we tried on most of them. We both left the store with a new pair. Liz bought the Stinson Evo ($180) and I got the Mafate 2 ($150). Liz ended up running all of Leanhorse in hers and I did about 70 miles in mine. We are now both in love with our Hokas! Before this year I was really into the more minimalist shoes and I'm sure I'll go back after this year to a shoe where I can feel what I'm running over. But for the rest of this year I will be doing most of my mile in Hokas for the simple reason that they protect the bottoms of the feet so well.
They are remarkably light and provide decent stability by having a very wide outsole. The softness of the midsole also allows the shoe to conform to unevenness on the trail providing stability. I have found that the shoes are a tiny bit narrow and the uppers don't give so well which has resulted in my toes taking more of a beating that with softer shoes. I'm very happy, though, to trade some toenails and bruised toes for the protection of the soles of my feet.
I have wanted to do Lean Horse for several years but always imagined doing it fast, perhaps as a pr race. The course has little climbing and the tread is almost perfect. Alas, this year was not to be about speed. I really did enjoy the race, though, and could see myself returning. It is a great course for running a pr as long as the temps are not too high. Liz and I were lucky with the weather once again with race day falling perfectly on a window of cool weather sandwiched between 90 degree days on both Friday and Sunday! I believe it was about 15 degrees cooler on Saturday with a few clouds early in the day and clear skies late and at night.
The race has been going on since 2005 and RD Jerry "Marathon Man" Dunn has everything down to a science. The pre race meeting and dinner was held at the Meuller Center in Hot Springs, SD, a nice venue with lots of room, wifi, and showers. It is also the finish line of the race so you can hang out there and cheer runners coming in. There was a short 10 minute bus ride to the start. A huge shout out to all the volunteers and race staff. Everything flowed really well and the aid stations were well stocked and well staffed with very helpful volunteers.
The course is mostly on the Mickelson Trail which is a crushed granite trail that is smooth as a baby's bottom ... well, almost that smooth. The course has an out and back section that goes off the Mickelson Trail on the outbound only. and then about 17 miles from the finish you turn off the MT to run into Hot Springs. The turn around is in Hill City and the trail passes through Custer about 15 miles before Hill City. The first part of the course is pretty but kind of flat and open but the further along you go the prettier it gets. Up towards Custer and Hill City is it gorgeous.
I started out at a pace that felt fairly fast but with it being so flat it didn't feel too hard. I felt good and forced myself to walk a lot of the very gradual uphills that many people were running. I knew that these stretches would be fantastic for running in the other direction and didn't want to be too tired to roll on them. I got to the turn around feeling good and after a quick stop to fix some chafing and to eat a bit I was headed back. I saw Liz about a mile out and she was looking good and still moving well.
I continued to move well, enjoying the scenery and the cooling breezes. All day long there had been intermittent breezes and they always felt cool. At times the temps were just a bit warm but the breeze always felt nice. As the light faded I continued on without turning on my headlamp as I often do long past when others have their lights on. I love running at night but don't like running with a headlamp or handheld. If I can run by ambient light or moonlight I'm happy but running with a lamp tires me out. I continued on hoping that with the 3/4 moon at about 45 degrees and rising that I wouldn't have to use the headlamp much.
What followed was one of the most enjoyable stretches of night running I've ever experienced. The MT is very smooth and flat with no rocks or ruts or anything to trip on so even if you are in a moon shadow you don't have to worry about tripping. I was able to run most of the night just by the moonlight. The trail is also a light color so it felt quite bright. It was magical. The beautiful scenery, the moonlight, the nice running and still feeling good all came together for a very memorable experience. The only place I had to turn my light on was when we came off the road going toward Hot Springs and had to run some grassy trails for a few miles.
Coming back towards the spot where we turned off the MT and onto the Argyle Road I met up with Cheryl Lager another experienced 100 miler who I had heard of but never met. We ended up running a good many miles together chatting and helping each other stay awake. As we neared town Cheryl told me that she might be able to get her 100 mile pr here. Leaving the last aid station she told me she was going to put on her music and push to the finish. I decided to hang with her but my legs had a different idea. I was mostly able to keep her in sight but she finished a couple minutes ahead of my 21:32 for a 10 minute or so pr as well as third woman.
When I got to the finish I checked to make sure that Liz wasn't too close to finishing so that I could get a bite to eat and a shower. I did both of those and dragged one of our anti-gravity chairs over to the finish line along with my zero degree down sleeping bag and cheered people into the finish while waiting for Liz. (It was quite chilly outside especially with the post race body chill.) As the 24 hour deadline approached I joked with a 50 mile finisher taking finish photos sitting next to me that Liz would most likely finish between 23:50 and 24 hours as I thought she'd be close and I knew she'd push for it. But 24 hours passed and still no Liz ... but it wasn't that long before she finished in 24:06 barely missing it. It turns out she had been pushing hard for quite a while and thought at the final aid station that she had fewer miles to go than she actually had.
Cudos to the volunteers at the finish for the continuous stream of hot breakfast burritos and other goodies on Sunday morning! There was a nice awards ceremony around 10 in the morning which was well attended and then everyone started leaving. We had been camping out in the RV at the Meuller Center since Thursday and decided to wait until morning to start the long drive back to Georgia. Next up is the Hallucination 100 in Michigan after one week off. We would fly from Atlanta for that one.
Thank you Jerry and all volunteers for a wonderful weekend!
Race count: Liz (23) Scott (16)